Updated: Jan 13
Note: Keep in mind that what our writers value for the men's rankings varies from the criteria that we use to rank the women.
5. Charlie Sweeney, Rs. Sophomore, Western Colorado
The men from Western Colorado have been headlined by a handful of star names in recent years. The trio of Ahmed Jama, Taylor Stack, and Ross Husch are now veterans who have led this team to an outstanding level of prominence. However, the new era of Western Colorado has now arrived and it comes in the form of Charlie Sweeney.
As a redshirt freshman in his first season of collegiate cross country competition (say that five times fast), Sweeney came seemingly out of nowhere and began challenging some of the best talents around the country.
After a 10th place finish at the Joe Vigil Invite and a 7th place finish at the Mountaineer-Cowboy Open, Sweeney began to find some serious momentum at the Lewis Crossover meet where he threw down a respectable 14th place finish. After finishing 13th at the RMAC Championships and 11th at the South Central Regional Championships, Sweeney had the best race of his season at Nationals where he finished 13th overall.
However, it was the ensuing track seasons that put Sweeney in our a top spot for our rankings. On the track, Sweeney ran huge personal bests of 14:00 and 29:43 while earning three All-American finishes in four different races.
It's clear that Sweeney is beginning to rapidly progress and when you consider that he is still one of the younger top talents in the NCAA, his upside potential is far too great to overlook.
4. Wesley Kirui, Junior, Alaska Anchorage
After spending a year at Hampton University where he was a standout steeplechase star, Kirui decided to head over to Alaska Anchorage where he would emerge as one of the best runners in D2.
As only a sopohmore, Kirui put together an insanely impressive 2018 resume during the cross country season. He secured two early-season wins before he finished 2nd to his teammate Felix Kemboi at the Western Washington Invite. After winning the GNAC title and finishing 5th at the West Regional Championships, Kirui proved that his three wins weren't just flukes. The Alaska Anchorage star battled the brutal conditions at Slippery Rock to outrun a handful of veterans and finish 8th overall.
I am a big believer that steeplechasers thrive on the cross country course and Kirui certainly helps me with that theory. This past spring, Kirui ran 8:52 for the steeple and earned a bronze medal at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
It's tough to find a negative with Kirui. He secures wins, posts consistently strong results, still has room to improve, and has run well in championship meets. He'll still need to elevate his talent if he wants to contend for a national title, but that is very much a reality later this fall.
3. Mason Phillips, Senior, Sioux Falls
One of the more underrated talents throughout Division Two is Mason Phillips. He has quietly put together a strong resume of cross country finishes that would rival even the best long distance standouts.
In 2018, Phillips won three of his four regular season meets, with his only loss coming at a very competitive Southern Stampede meet where he finished 8th overall. After being part of 1-2-3 sweep at the NSIC Championships (where he finished 2nd), Phillips finished 5th at the Central Region Championships and then posted a huge 7th place finish at the national meet which was overshadowed by the massive upset of Marcelo Laguera's win and GVSU's team title.
Phillips was also very successful on the track, anchoring home the Sioux Falls DMR to a 4th place finish at Indoor Nationals before running 3:47 for 1500 meter during the spring season. With a pair of top 15 finishes under his belt at the XC National Championships, Phillips is a stealth pick to win the individual title later this fall...especially with the top spot wide open.
2. Taylor Stack, Junior, Western Colorado
The last name of the Western Colorado powerhouse is Taylor Stack who has rapidly progressed into one of the better distance runners in D2. Men like Sydney Gidabuday and Zach Panning have overshadowed Stack's accomplishments, but what he has accomplished at the national level makes him more than worthy enough of the #2 spot in our rankings.
In 2018, Stack never finished worse than 7th in ANY meet ran in. After finishing 5th at the Joe Vigil Invite and 2nd at the Mountaineer-Cowboy Open, Stack proved that he was among the top talents in D2 by finishing 5th at the very competitive Lewis Crossover meet which was headlined by many of the nation's top programs.
Despite the postseason being where Stack would face most of his major competition, the Mountaineer star held incredible composure. He finished 4th behind eventual national champion Marcelo Laguera and the Adams State duo of Gidabuday and Gedyon. Stack would later go on to earn a huge (but expected) 5th place finish at Nationals despite only finishing 7th at the South Central Regional Championships.
With Western Colorado in a position to win it all later this fall, Stack has the potential to give the Mountaineers two national titles in one day. After running 13:58 for 5000 meters earlier this spring, that seems like a very realistic possibility.
1. Gidieon Kimutai, Sophomore, Missouri Southern
For fans familiar with the landscape around D2, this shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Kimutai burst onto the scene last year as a freshman and never had a race where he underwhelmed. He's the top returner from last year's national meet, but that's not the only reason why he has claimed the top spot in our Top 25.
Despite 2018 being his first season of collegiate competition, Kimutai was unfazed by the mass herds of talent surrounding him. In the seven meets leading up to the National Championships, Kimutai only finished outside of the top two on one occasion. That one occurrence came at the Chile Pepper Festival (where he finished 17th) which featured an established Arkansas team as well as a handful of random (but strong) collegiate distance running standouts.
Entering Nationals, Kimutai had brought home four different wins, two of which were his conference and regional crowns. But how would the Missouri Southern star handle a field filled with veterans and all-time greats? How would he handle the challenging course in brutal, un-Missouri-like conditions? How much of a role would his lack of experience play?
Apparently none of these concerns were good concerns as Kimutai finished as the best non-senior at the national meet with a 4th place finish. But his success didn't end there. Kimutai would later go on to replicate his 4th place finish at Indoor Nationals in the 5000 meters.
There's not much we can knock Kimutai for. Yes, he failed to qualify for Nationals this past spring, but after such an incredible streak of performances, I think it's ok if we give him a pass. There is still plenty of upside for him going into his sophomore year and if he makes even a few minor improvements, he'll very likely walk away with NCAA gold in November.